Networked Lighting Controls: LEDs and Simplicity

Lighting technology has made huge strides in recent years. LEDs are here to stay while the various lighting controls options continue to grow in number and complexity.

LEDs appear to be the clear winner for providing electric light. They are significantly more efficient and longer lasting than fluorescent or incandescent lamps. For example, a common 60-watt incandescent equivalent LED lamp will only use 8 or 9 watts while providing the equivalent lumens or light level. That’s better than 80% savings in energy use! Much longer run times also translates to less time spent replacing lamps saving maintenance costs.

Lighting controls, unlike LED lamps, are much less straight forward. At the highest level there are two types of controls: networked and stand-alone.

Networked controls provide control to multiple pre-determined spaces from a central control source, e.g. a lighting control panel (LCP). LCPs have been used for many years to control various lighting zones based on programmable on/off time settings or by astronomical clock scheduling. Exterior lighting zones frequently use the astronomical clock feature. When the sun goes down, the lights turn on and when the sun comes up, the lights turn off. These basic lighting control panels combined with LED lamps provide owners with an excellent and simple solution for controlling scheduled lighting zones at a low operating and up-front cost. For zones that don’t require a schedule, stand-alone controls for day-light dimming or vacancy on/off do a great job.

Networked lighting controls, like many other systems, can now operate over the building network (ethernet). This type of system can include a programmable point for each lamp and lighting control device in the building. Each lamp and device can then be programmed from a front end computer. A 50,000 sqft building can have hundreds of devices to monitor and maintain. Owners should be aware of these intricacies before this type of system is chosen for their building.

These fully automated lighting control systems are more expensive and more complicated. This often results in an overall less efficient lighting system due to improper operation. Our professional opinion is that these systems are not justifiable on a cost basis because there is already simple and reliable technology to provide excellent lighting solutions and energy savings. Furthermore, the electricity cost used by LEDs is already incredibly low, making it nearly impossible to see a payback when comparing programmable networked systems to more basic lighting control systems.

Simple LCPs with standalone lighting controls, paired with LED lamps, provides an excellent basis of design for a new lighting system.